Charlie Hibbs in his home in White River, South Dakota.
It’s been 30 years and Charlie Hibbs still marvels at how close he came to dying.
The White River, South Dakota carpenter suffered from kidney stones and had an allergic reaction to the dye injected during the x-ray tests to find the kidney stones. “It was bad. My left side swelled up to 10 times normal and I went into cardiac arrest,” he said.
He also developed what was then called “wet lung syndrome,” or acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). It’s a rare life-threatening condition in which an injured lung can’t do its job properly. The lung doesn’t fill with air and the bloodstream can’t get enough oxygen.
“I was flown in to Omaha from Valentine, where my sister and a friend took me,” Hibbs said. “I spent 13 days in the ICU at what used to be Saint Joseph Hospital. They had a heck of a time keeping me alive.”
The survival rate today for ARDS is 50%; he said it was much lower then.
“I don’t remember any of it. On the 13th day they told my sister and mother, ‘You need to call a pastor. He isn’t going to make it.’”
Hibbs woke from a coma on the fourteenth day. “My friend John was in the room and playing a guitar. I thought I was in Heaven.” He laughed. “Then he told me, ‘You fool! You’re not in Heaven. You’re on earth yet! You’re in a hospital room!’”
Last month, in an email to Alegent Creighton University Medical Center, Hibbs wrote: “I just want to thank you for saving my life back then!”
He sent the email after 29-and-a-half years, he said, because “I thought, ‘Why not let them (people at the hospital) know I’m still alive?’”
He credited his faith and belief in God – and doctors and nurses – for keeping him alive. “And I was a healthy individual. I didn’t smoke. And a lot of it was it wasn’t my time to go.”
“I give the Lord a lot of praise. I wouldn’t be here to share my story otherwise. He has shown me so many miracles. I still think of it. I’m so grateful – so thankful – that I’m alive!”